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What You Should Know About Biphasic and Polyphasic Sleep

Do you ever find yourself wide-awake at 3 a.m.? You lie there staring at the ceiling, trying to will yourself back to sleep. No matter how tired you are when you turn in, does it seem you get 20 winks instead of 40?

Your sleep requirements are as individual as you are. You might require a solid 8 hours of sleep for optimal function. Or, you may lead a productive and healthy life on 5 hours of sleep per night, with a short nap during the day.

Sleep is extremely important, but there are no hard and fast rules that say you have to get your sleep in one block. In fact, humans have not always followed a monophasic sleep pattern.

A History of Repose

Historian Roger Ekirch shows how humans have traditionally slept in two phases. It was common for humans to go to bed a couple hours after dusk. Then they would wake in the night for a few hours and talk, smoke, pray, eat or have sex. Then they would go back to sleep until morning.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that humans started sleeping in one block. And that was for the convenience of the industrial revolution. Humans went from homesteading to working all day in factories, and naps were very inconvenient for the factory owners.

Then electricity was invented. Electric lights made it possible for humans to stay up way past dusk. Today our world is lit up 24 hours a day. Like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Now you can shop, eat, work or go dancing at any time of day or night.

But electric light is very recent in terms of the evolutionary timeline. Humans have not had enough time to evolve sleep patterns suited to our new environment. If trying to sleep in one fell swoop just isn’t working for you, a biphasic or polyphasic sleep pattern may benefit you. It’s about quality, not quantity, of sleep.

Biphasic Sleep

You’ve heard of the siesta, right? Those countries where the lucky residents get to close up shop in the late afternoon for a great meal and a nice long nap? The whole town does it, so you’re not missing out on anything. Then, everyone wakes up and gets back to work for a few more hours feeling nice and refreshed. That’s biphasic sleep.

Biphasic sleep, as its name suggests, is when you sleep in two sessions instead of one long one. Typically, you’ll sleep for approximately 6 hours at night, and then nap for 30 to 90 minutes in the afternoon.

Biphasic Benefits

There is research that supports the benefits of biphasic sleep patterns. But it’s not for everyone. Research showed some test subjects experienced negative effects. Some of the benefits include enhanced energy levels, improved productivity and increased concentration. Biphasic sleep can also elevate your mood and increase your memory capacity.

Polyphasic Sleep

You may have heard of people trying to hack their sleep cycle to steal back part of the hours spent in slumber. Since we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, that’s a lot of hours to steal. Their goal is to gain more productive hours to give them an edge at work and to have more hours of leisure time.

When you choose a polyphasic sleep schedule, you sleep multiple times in a 24-hour period. In general, you’ll sleep for 3 hours and then take several 20- to 30-minute naps throughout the day. However, there are many different combinations and suggested sleep schedules in polyphasic sleep patterns. Regardless of which schedule you follow, your total time spent with the Sandman will be far less than the RDA of 7 to 8 hours.

Polyphasic Pros and Cons

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the purported benefits of polyphasic sleep patterns are the same as biphasic. In addition, some polyphasic dozers find they get into REM sleep more quickly and easily. And you get the added bonus of extra hours in your day. But it entails greater risks.

You could experience grogginess and disorientation when waking from one of your naps. The total hours of sleep may not be sufficient for you to be productive, and it could leave you feeling tired all day long. You may find it difficult to fall asleep in the daytime. Experts suggest taking time off work when you first begin a polyphasic sleep pattern. It may take time for your body to adjust. You should avoid driving or operating machinery.

If you take one thing away from this, let it be that it’s important to give your body what it needs. Is your current sleep pattern working for you? If not, consider experimenting with biphasic and polyphasic sleep patterns. Don’t be afraid to develop a sleep pattern that’s as individual as you are. Listen to your body. If an adjusted sleep pattern makes you feel better, do it.

Janet Ashforth is a certified Personal Trainer, licensed Massage Therapist, and meditation instructor. She has been helping people regain their health and wellness for over 14 years. Janet also writes about health, fitness, nutrition, cooking, and baking. She is a real food advocate and currently creating a wellness retreat.


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